Reflections on a Grading System

This semester in Precalculus I used my own grading system that I created through Google Spreadsheets. The program worked well enough, but I am going back to ActiveGrade for a few reasons.

Screenshot from 2015-12-19 15-22-43

Left: Student View. Right: Teacher View.

Why I’m Leaving the Google Spreadsheet Grading

The students were confused with the overwhelming number of grades they had to wade through. The simplicity of ActiveGrade is also one of its strengths.

Occasionally the students couldn’t see their grades because the function ImportRange sometimes didn’t work.

The teacher view is every student’s assignment, so I can’t easily see where students stand on a given topic.

I initially liked separating skills and understanding concepts, but there are a few problems from it. For one, the skills and concepts are on different tabs, so it’s more cumbersome to input grades.

I separated the standards on each quiz, but through some teachers on Twitter I see the perspective of not putting standards on quizzes and having students figure out which standard is which. Breaking the standards into tiny chunks was good for encouraging students to “retake” standards.

One more advantage of ActiveGrade is the ability to send an e-mail to every student and parent with their grades. Currently our school sends a weekly grade e-mail to parents, but since I don’t keep my grades there, parents don’t see student’s grades.

Math Practices

I tried to keep track of certain math practices: (1) Good reasoning & explanations, (2) Checking work, (3) Math Modeling, (4) Asking good questions, and (5) Reasoning when doing estimations. I wasn’t good at “catching” (1) when students did it in class (that was supposed to be the primary way I got that one), students didn’t do well enough on quizzes to get to the point of (2) checking their work, and the system I had designed for (4) asking good questions didn’t allow for enough students to demonstrate their ability. The only ones that worked were (3) and (5). The (3) Math Modeling worked since they had to turn in the sheet to show that they worked during the 3-act lesson. The (5) estimations worked because it was a warm-up [1], once a week, and the students submitted responses into a Google form (bit.ly/rcsguess), which I could then plug in later. However, the warm-up took longer than I wanted (~15 minutes), so I think I’m going to drop it for 2nd semester.

Because of all this, the Math Modeling is the only Math Practice I’m going to keep grading. I’ll probably plug this into the school’s grading system and set it as %30 of a student’s grade. This should be a gimme for students that are present and turn in the work that they do in class, once a week, on block days.

The New Plan

I still want to emphasize understanding. I plan to do this on a case-by-case basis. I will no longer break one standard into sub-standards for grading purposes (e.g. 1.7 Combinations & Composition of Functions had the sub-standards 1.7A Combinations of Functions, 1.7B Function Composition, and 1.7C Function Decomposition) because I want students to know what a question is asking by reading the question, not the standard heading. However, it is often still helpful to introduce new ideas by breaking it down, so I’ll hold on to those names somewhere. Quizzes will be broken into 3 “sections”, and students receive a grade: 1, 2, or 3, for each quiz. To earn a 3 (Mastery), students will have to demonstrate understanding at some point[2]. I am still going to make “going beyond” available (trying to decide between making it a 3.5 and a 4) for students who want to reach and get an A. I’ve really appreciated the Nrich math problems to that end.

Drawbacks

Quizzes (or discussions) to demonstrate previous standards will take longer: to create, take and grade.

It will take more work for students to see which skill or understanding they need to focus on when going back over previous standards, since the standards aren’t broken into tiny sections anymore.

Students won’t see that “growth level” (and the video game characters to go with it!0 which I was so excited about. I think it accurately captured which students worked the hardest to improve in math in my class and I hope to find ways to encourage that kind of growth again.

Conclusion

Those are the only drawbacks? Grading should be faster to plug in, parents will know where students stand more frequently, and students will be required to recognize when a skill or technique applies rather than just memorizing a single skill and applying it. Why didn’t I make this change sooner? I’ve still got a ways to go, but hopefully I can start focusing on content more.

 

[1] Also, the Estimation 180 website is already created, and super cool!

[2] Before a 2 “felt like a 2” and a 3 “felt like a 3”. Now there 3 questions and it’s easier for a student to predict how well they’ll do based on their own grading of themselves after a quiz. From Chemistry I have appreciated making it clearer what a student will get based on how well they perform on each question.

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “Reflections on a Grading System

  1. Long time no chat!

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts here, and I am especially curious about ActiveGrade now. I’ve had the app but haven’t used it – tended to use the google spreadsheet that I created instead. But in any case, I wanted to go through your post and share some of my thoughts with you. Maybe continue some conversations too 🙂

    “The students were confused with the overwhelming number of grades they had to wade through. The simplicity of ActiveGrade is also one of its strengths.”

    Hmm that’s interesting and may have to do with the way that you set it up? Maybe you can share the file with me at some point so I can see what you mean. In my version there was a visual record and I found that was relatively for students to navigate through. As I mentioned before, though, I am certainly curious about ActiveGrade

    “Occasionally the students couldn’t see their grades because the function ImportRange sometimes didn’t work.”

    I have been quite frustrated by this a few times. Usually I just refresh the page a few times and google spreadsheet works its magic and it works. I haven’t had an occasion where I was left hanging for too long – but I have spoken to students that had trouble getting it to work.

    “The teacher view is every student’s assignment, so I can’t easily see where students stand on a given topic”

    This was the biggest annoyance for me. Well actually not completely the same as the one you’re thinking of, probably. Usually when I want to take a look at where the student stands, I would access their visual spreadsheet instead (if you remember mine). This was helpful to see where the students stand – however it was annoying to have to go in and out of them every single time. Especially with slow internet connection and slow computer at school. It made for some awkward silences which were generally okay – but not pleasant. Not to mention time wasted. I had been thinking about how to refine the process – but it hasn’t been reason enough for me to completely abandon Google Spreadsheet quite yet. Maybe you can show me how you’re using ActiveGrade at some point?

    “I initially liked separating skills and understanding concepts, but there are a few problems from it. For one, the skills and concepts are on different tabs, so it’s more cumbersome to input grades.”

    How did you separate the *skills* and *concepts*? what is a *skill* and what is a *concept* as you’ve defined it? Just curious.

    “Because of all this, the Math Modeling is the only Math Practice I’m going to keep grading. I’ll probably plug this into the school’s grading system and set it as %30 of a student’s grade. ”

    Are you strictly talking about evaluative purposes here? I went a different route here. I actually stayed relatively away from nailing everything as a strict percentage. It helped for us to just talk about general skills and where they stand, while talking about ways of improving them (I assume the reason you liked SBG in the first place). So no tricky averaging – just looking qualitatively at their understanding.

    “Students won’t see that “growth level” (and the video game characters to go with it!0 which I was so excited about. I think it accurately captured which students worked the hardest to improve in math in my class and I hope to find ways to encourage that kind of growth again.”

    Hmm… maybe it’s possible to use both in some sense? Like a threshold kind of deal? I don’t totally know how ActiveGrade works, but maybe once a student reaches a threshold for a concept and have consistently demonstrated understanding, you jump into a simplified version of a Google Spreadsheet and throw them a star?

    In any case… Thanks for sharing!

  2. Sorry Jim, I’ve been on vacation with my family so I’ve had trouble finding time to reply, because I want to do it justice. Thanks for the thoughtful post!

    I’ll share the file with you, but here’s my take on the file. Before introducing it to the students, it seemed easy to me, finding what “I needed to work on”. There was even a link for the student to click on which took them to a web page on the topic they needed to improve. But when I “rolled it out”, it wasn’t obvious to the students. I was trying to communicate too much information for them. If they cared about learning in the first place (this is something that we have to work on throughout the year), maybe they’d be more committed to finding what they need to work on, but it was just too much work to put together the different parts and wrap their minds around what they should work on. That and they’re still fixed on the “What’s my grade?” problem.

    Yeah, ImportRange not working 100% is a huge problem when you always need to be able to check your grades. Often students could sit on their spreadsheet for 15 minutes and it would come back, but most students didn’t have the patience.

    In addition to seeing how everyone’s doing on everything, you can sort by grade on a given standard, see progress, and hugely important to me, see how frequently and recently every student has taken every standard. Creating that in the spreadsheet is probably doable, but would make the file huge and unwieldy. Being able to sort by standard allows for setting up “sessions”, where the students who are good in some standards teach others who are not as good at a given standard.

    Yes, I’m talking about just for evaluating. I think that your “keeping everything as a skill” is a great idea, one that I’ll consider how to work it out. We’ll still work on estimations, reasoning, checking your work, and asking good questions, but I won’t grade them this next semester and I’ll work on figuring how to “put my money where my mouth is” another day when it comes to these things. I will say that by asking students to check their work and “grading” that (or at least keeping track of it), I’ve done more on that topic than any year previously, to the point that some students have learned why checking their work is a good thing!

    The “growth level” thing is something only a few students got excited about. Perhaps if I make it more visible, like a wall in the classroom (yet not embarrass those who are not having as much growth). I threw it into the spreadsheet because it was easy, but maybe adding this to my class won’t be just as easy as I had hoped.

    Thanks for the thoughts that helped me reflect even more and I’ll send you a link to the spreadsheet when I get a chance!

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